Open Government Advocacy Project
The Open Government Advocacy Project is a committee of the NJ Libertarian Party. Its goal is to ensure transparency and accountability at all levels of government. Articles posted here are a subset of the work of the committee. For more information visit the Open Government Advocacy Project blog.
If you would like to demand accountability and ensure that your local governing body or school board adheres to the Open Public Records Act we can help you request information from them. Contact John Paff, the project chair here.
The NJ Libertarian Party Open Government task force has been uncovering unadvertised settlements between government entities. The following recently appeared in the Hunterdon County Democrat.
$245K paid to settle police brutality suits
by Veronica Slaght / Hunterdon County DemocratWednesday January 14, 2009, 12:29 PM
READINGTON TWP. -- Two police brutality lawsuits were settled for a total of $245,000, according to agreements recently unearthed by open public records advocate John Paff.
Mr. Paff is a Somerset resident who runs the state Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. He has also pressed the High Bridge and Franklin Township school boards for more openness. Mr. Paff said he came across the Readington documents during a routine investigation into civil cases involving a government agency, which he posts on his blog: njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com. Mr. Paff said he thought people might be interested in the payouts because that's information municipalities don't like to advertise.
EDISON — Public discussion on a controversial ordinance that, if passed, would amend various rules of procedure in Township Council meetings is set for tonight's Jan. 14 meeting. Aimed at increasing the efficiency at which township business is conducted, it has been heavily critiqued by some residents as restricting free speech.
The ordinance, introduced on Dec. 22, contains many provisions that would either change how meetings are conducted or clarify current practices. One part, for example, lays out the specific procedure for how a special meeting can be called and who can call one. Similarly, the ordinance explicitly lays out the process by which the budget is examined, discussed and adopted.
See full story. Includes mention of the NJ Libertarian Party Open Government Taskforce's role in shaping the ordinance.
In an unpublished trial court decision released today, Bergen County Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter E. Doyne denied Paramus Borough's lawsuit seeking a declaration that the Borough Attorney must review all non-routine OPRA requests submitted to the Borough Clerk.
The decision is available HERE..
Somerset, New Jersey
At a special meeting to be held on January 14, 2009, at 7 p.m. the Rutherford Mayor and Council will discuss amendments to the Council's bylaws.
In its January 12, 2009 letter, the Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project offered some comments and suggestions regarding Rutherford's bylaws. That letter, along with a copy of the present bylaws, is on-line HERE.
John Paff, Chair
Open Government Advocacy Project
New Jersey Libertarian Party
Rules in Central Jersey towns vary widely as Edison weighs limit on public-meeting comments
EDISON —As the debate over curbing public comment at Township Council meetings continues, a survey of neighboring municipalities shows that most do not limit public comment at their meetings.
The portion of the proposed ordinance that has ignited public ire in Edison seeks to limit individuals to speaking just once on each of the categories of business on the meeting's agenda, with a limit of four minutes each time.
See full article. Includes comments of the NJ Libertarian Party Open Government Taskforce.
Paterson pays $10,000 to settle vaguely worded police abuse case. On May 28, 2008, the City of Paterson paid $10,000 to a local man who had sued the City and Paterson Police officers John Plelan and Frank Motta in August 2007 for an alleged police "assault" occurring on October 6, 2005.
In his cryptically worded civil lawsuit, Alex Lopez claimed that the officers, along with other unnamed officers, "committed an assault and battery upon" him and "committed acts which constituted false imprisonment." No further details are provided in the lawsuit. Lopez was represented in his lawsuit by Alan Roth, Esq. of Bendit Weinstock, P.C. of West Orange.
Although Thomas Wachendorf's and Christopher Strobel's brutality lawsuits against the Readington Township police have received a fair amount of publicity (see, e.g. the January 4, 2007 Star Ledger article, which is set forth at the foot of this posting), the amount of their settlements with Readington have not been publicly disclosed until now.
In a settlement reached January 23, 2007, Thomas J. Wachendorf settled his case against the Readington Township and officers Christopher DeWire and Scott Crater for $45,000. This figure has not previously been released probably because both Wachendorf and the Township agreed that "the terms and conditions of [their] settlement and the claims upon it was based shall remain confidential in so far as permitted by law." This confidentiality agreement cannot, however, defeat a citizen's right to gain access to it by way of an Open Public Records Act request.
The New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project has commented on and made suggestions regarding the Edison Township (Middlesex County) Council's proposal to change its Administrative Code, which is up for a Council vote on January 14th. This is the code that governs the conduct at Council meetings and regulates public participation at those meetings.
Among the items questioned is a provision barring the public from making whatever the Council President determines to be "defamatory, insulting or inflammatory remarks" at meetings. I also asked for a precise definition of an "effective majority" of the Council. The letter to the Council and the full text of the proposal is available HERE.
The full text of the existing Code is on-line HERE.
Somerset, New Jersey
Mount Holly settles civil rights lawsuit
By: DANIELLE CAMILLI, Burlington County Times
MOUNT HOLLY &emdash; A federal civil rights lawsuit that pitted a Garden Street couple
against town hall has been settled with the township admitting no wrongdoing, but paying the residents $75,000 in a confidential agreement.
The settlement between the township and Andrew and Alda Copeland was signed in September, but made public only this month after the chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project requested and received documents through the state’s Open Public Records Act.
Two of 17 Atlantic towns settle public records suits
By EDWARD VAN EMBDEN Staff Writer, Press of Atlantic City
A civil suit brought against 17 Atlantic County municipalities for alleged violations of the Open Public Records Act has resulted in two towns changing the way they conduct business.
Both Buena Vista Township and Folsom reached a settlement with John Paff, of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, earlier this month to provide the public with more details of their executive sessions.
Litigation against the other towns is ongoing.
Paff said he chose litigation against the municipalities after OPRA requests revealed violations regarding either the lack of details of matters discussed prior to closed sessions or withholding of minutes from those closed session meetings.
By JOSEPH P. SMITH • Daily Journal Staff Writer • December 9, 2008
BUENA VISTA -- The Township Committee is saying more about what members plan to talk about in closed session, thanks to a legal agreement with the New Jersey Libertarian Party.
The agreement was reached amicably over the last month, according to both parties.
Specifically, a seven-page, court-approved order requires the committee to be more specific about the topics it will discuss in private.
Read the full article HERE.
New Jersey Lawyer
Veteran activist presses AG for public disclosure
Friday, August 15, 2008 3:06 PM EDT
Somerset resident John Paff has amassed a track record of forcing a variety of public disclosure reforms within the state's courts and related matters, and now the chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's open government panel is turning his sights on the state's attorney general.
See the entire story here
New Jersey Herald
July 9, 2008
Advocate wants more transparency
By SETH AUGENSTEIN
SPARTA -- A letter from a renowned New Jersey open government advocate has requested some changes to how local board of education meetings operate.
For the complete story, click here.
The Libertarian Party's Open Government Task Force's efforts to increase the Warren County Freeholder's Open Public Meetings Act compliance was reported in a June 16, 2008 Express Times article.
The OGFT's letters, referred to in the article, are available here.
Advocate goes after minutes
He claims Warren County freeholders are violating Open Public Meetings Act.
Monday, June 16, 2008
By SARA K. SATULLO
WHITE TWP. - An open government advocate is challenging Warren county's policy of not releasing closed-door meeting minutes without freeholder board approval.
John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open
Government Advocacy Project, initially challenged the county for
being too vague when going into closed session. Instead of the board just saying it is discussing pending litigation, Paff advocates specifying the litigants' names.
Read the full article here.